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Archive for May, 2009

Turkey Part II – The Turkening

by on May.31, 2009, under Uncategorized

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On my final day in Istanbul, I met up with my friend Caglayan, a puppeteer who lived for a long time in Brattleboro (my home town in VT) before he moved back to Turkey in 2005. He lives outside of Istanbul on the coast, but happened to be in town that week because of a puppetry festival and was staying with his girlfriend Nur.

So I boarded a ferry across the Bosphorus (Nur’s apartment being on the Asian side of Istanbul). All of the touristy stuff (as mentioned in my previous post) plus most of the business and night life, is on the European side of Istanbul, so I hadn’t even made it to the Asian side at all yet. That was a wonderful journey – I got to see some of the shipping port, which is massive, and filled with container ships and other oceanbound traffic. It was very cool to see the more regular day-to-day side of the town. Caglayan met me at the dock, and on the way to Nur’s place we stopped to pick up something for lunch – a sort of egg pastry pie (similar to a quiche, although I gather it is boiled rather than baked). Then we arrived at the apartment and I was introduced to Nur, a charming lady who spoke very little English (although far more than I spoke of Turkish!) Together they prepared and served an elaborate lunch, which involved all sorts of veggies and meats and cheeses in addition to the egg pie. It was delicious!

Meanwhile Caglayan and I caught up on old times, with him pausing frequently to translate for Nur, and to translate her questions for me. I learned that he had just started doing puppetry again after several years of other obligations (first he had to help fix up his parents’ house in the islands of Turkey, then he had to serve his time in the army). I was glad to hear he was finally getting back to his art.

He’s an exceptional puppeteer — he truly brings his puppets to life, so you forget that he’s even there, and start believing the puppets are their own creatures. He showed me a video of his latest performance, a beautiful piece he’d performed several times in Brattleboro where a rock man walks around on a pile of rocks, stopping to listen to each one. Then all the rocks float up into the air, and so does the man, and the terrain they were in is revealed to be a giant ear. It’s quite magical to watch.

Likewise he was curious about my video art, especially as he’d been trying to explain it to Nur and had been unable to (it’s quite difficult to explain without being able to see it 🙂 ) Luckily I had videos of some of my more recent work up on Youtube, which I played for them. (If you’re interested, see here and here, and here are a bunch more. )

After that, they took me on a tour by car around the East side of Istanbul, and out into the suburbs, stopping frequently at aquariums. You see, Nur has a tank full of various types of pet fish, and apparently often has two or three fish funerals in a day, so she’s always on the lookout for new ones. Only one fish funeral occurred the day I was there, and she didn’t end up buying any new ones, but it made for some interesting side-journeys.

It was great to see a local perspective on the place, something it’s very hard to do usually as a visitor. During our meanderings, we also acquired a large board to be crafted into a table for a room they were converting into a workshop.

After driving all over the place and exchanging a few more stories, we went back to the apartment. Nur began preparing an epic fish dinner while Caglayan and I began construction of the workbench. Soon dinner was on, and it was even better than lunch – roast salmon, delectably seasoned, and a spicy cheese and seafood dish that was just incredible.

As we ate we watched Eurovision, a yearly event where every country in Europe submits a musical act to compete against each other, and people from every country call in to vote on their favorites. You’re not allowed to vote for your own country, to prevent bias, but of course a lot of countries end up voting for their neighbors anyway. Apparently it’s a huge deal over there, although I’d never heard of it before. It was quite entertaining, and it was fun to see how the various countries’ acts differed, and how they kept some elements of their native culture, while other elements were ceded to the Monoculture (most of the songs were mostly in English, for example).

It was quite fun to watch, especially hearing the Turkish take on the whole thing from Nur and Caglayan. In the end the Norwegian guy won hands down, which was justified, as his was the most catchy song, and the only that had a fiddle in it.

The next morning I bid a fond farewell to Caglayan, regretting that I didn’t have more time to spend visiting. I’ll return to Turkey sometime, there’s so much left to see — I only saw Istanbul, didn’t see any of the countryside or the islands.

The next day was my flight to Bangkok. It felt like a very long day, but it was the shortest night I’ve ever experienced, lasting only about 4 hours. Then I landed in Bangkok – more on that in the next post. I’m finally catching up here… 🙂

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Even Old New York Was Once New Amsterdam…

by on May.27, 2009, under Uncategorized

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It’s been way too long since I posted last — I’ve got a lot of catching up to do! My next destination after Santorini was… Istanbul (not Constantinople), Turkey!

Istanbul is an amazing city, huge and sprawling, filled with a plethora of aromas, from roasting nuts and meat to cloth smells and other undefinable odors. Also, it just simply has style. In the same way that Chicago has style. Everything there is elegantly designed, from the buildings to the furniture to the bathroom fixtures. The difference is Chicago’s style is all Art Deco Jazz-Era Industrial, whereas Istanbul’s style is ancient, stretching back thousands of years, feeling wise and polished with age – it’s all about stained carved wood, brass, and of course Persian rugs.

I spent most of the week doing touristy things, starting with the famous Blue Mosque and even more famous Hagia Sofia. Of the two I found the Blue Mosque the most beautiful. Most reckon the Hagia Sofia to be better, but I found it to be kind of a mishmash, not surprising since it has been rebuilt and reconfigured several times, as the prevailing religion changed. Here are some shots of the Blue Mosque. From the nearby fountain:

I wish I had a better one of inside, but it was hard to capture a steady enough shot in the dim light.

I can’t say exactly what it was about the inside of the mosque that so impressed me. Perhaps it’s because the overall proportions and color scheme of the Blue Mosque were so harmonious and unified. Also, the intricate patterning on all the walls and ceiling was very beautiful.

Here’s a shot from inside the Hagia Sofia. Like I said, I wasn’t terribly impressed with it, although it’s cool to learn its history.

The most interesting place I visited was the Basilica Cistern, a large underground cavern filled with columns that rise from a vast pool of water that continually drips from the ceiling.

The best thing for me about the cistern was the air – if you know me well you probably know what a fan I am of negative ions – an excess of electrons in air that is caused by large bodies of moving water such as waterfalls, thunderstorms or the ocean. These ions both clean the air and give it a natural euphoric quality – which is why people often get excited and giddy during hurricaines, and enjoy the ocean so much (one of the reasons 🙂 ) Anyway, this chamber was just brimming with negative ions, from the constant dripping from the barrel-vaulted ceilings. After I’d toured the place I didn’t want to leave! The odd thing about the columns here is that they are all different – apparently they were brought to this place from many old temples and other ruins. One of the more striking columns is known as the Column of Tears because of the patterning on its sides (again I apologize for blurriness, it was quite dark):

The most intriguing place in the Cistern is the Medusas. Two giant sculptural heads of Medusas serve as bases for columns in the northwest corner of the cistern. Of course, as soon as I saw the sign “this way to Medusa” I knew to be on my guard. I didn’t have a shiny shield like Perseus did to use as a mirror, but I did have my digital camera – so the entire time I was near the Medusas, I was careful to view everything through that. Many other visitors, whether by luck or forethought, were equally clever. A couple people in the group, as you can see, did not plan ahead:

Here’s head itself, which should be safe to view over the web:

I don’t know why the builders of the cistern decided to place the head upside down (the second head is on its side). I belive it’s a mystery to this day.

Some other things: I’m not sure what mosque this is, but it is rather large and impressive. I quite like the modern-vs-ancient interplay caused by the scaffolding that rises around several of the towers.

Also, I was amused by this signage, which appears on the tram in Istanbul:

I believe it means “Reserved for Pregnant Women, Woman with Infants, Radioactive Snake Charmers, and Steampunk Dirigible Pilots.”

That is all. My final day in Istanbul I spent hanging out with my good friend Caglayan from my hometown in Brattleboro — a post on that soon!

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by on May.06, 2009, under Uncategorized

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Sorry, Venice, there is a town more beautiful than you and it is the village of Ia on the island of Santorini in Greece.

Santorini overall is just an incredibly breathtaking place. I arrived by ferry on Saturday.

The ferry door opening upon landing on Santorini. Every hotel on the island offers pickup service from the port, and I soon found out why.

The port is at the bottom of a pretty much sheer cliff with about 7 switchbacks in the narrow road to get to the top. I snapped this photo from the van – you can see the port far below. And this wasn’t even quite the top of the cliff! The Blue Star Ferry, still in port, is the one I arrived on.

Sunday I rented an ATV and rode all around the island, oohing and aahing the whole way and taking literally hundreds of pictures. Here are the best ones:

Santorini is famous in part for its beaches of different colors. Most of the beaches are dark grey volcanic sand. But then there’s red beach:

Here’s how a handful of the sand looks:

Santorini is the home of actual troglodytes! Countless cliff faces have a cave or two dug into them, and many of them are still being used, for storage or dwellings. This one struck me as particularly daring and dramatic, as the cave is dug out right above a sheer 500-foot cliff overlooking the ocean. Not sure I’d want to live there, despite the amazing view:

Not only was it amazingly sunny on Sunday (don’t worry Mom + Dad, I wore sunscreen 🙂 ) but the water of the Mediterranean was almost glass-like. You can see that below, where the wake of the motorboat shown in the above picture is still visible curving around the lighthouse point.

As I crossed the peak of the island, I stopped for lunch and for this amazing baklava, the first I’ve had in its authentic location. It was quite good:

Here’s another cave I found. This one had a donkey stabled in it. To the right you can see my ATV.

Here is a black beach, whose actual name I forget, near Amoudi Bay, just under the city of Ia. You can see how black the sand is.

I reached the end of my journey at the opposite tip of the island, the breathtaking city of Ia, or Oia as it’s spelled in Greek. As you can see there’s a bay town, and then another nearly sheer cliff (with a ton of stairs) and the city proper perched like a flock of birds at the top.

The bay village is stunning in its own right, and full of quite overpriced restaurants.

Finally I made the climb to the top. And discovered another charming thing about Ia –

Ia is a pedestrian town, you park at the edge and then walk (or take a donkey taxi) through the narrow streets that wind up and down and around in three dimensions, among the many levels of bright white buildings. It’s quite Escheresque.

This sign made me laugh. I can’t imagine ever seeing it anywhere else:

This has to be the best hottub location ever. It’s right at the corner of the city, right on the cliff, with a vast panorama of ocean sunset. Sadly, it was part of a spa so I wasn’t able to use it.

Ia is the place to go to see the sunset on Santorini, because it’s in the perfect spot to look out to the west, with a 270 degree panorama of the sea and nearby islands. And if it’s a good sunset, it turns all the white buildings red and purple.

Looking for the best place to watch the sunset (that wasn’t going to charge me 50 Euro for dinner) I found the castle perched at one corner of Ia where a lot of tourists were milling in wait of the spectacular show. I grabbed a promising spot among them to wait.

Soon afterwards, I befriended two Asian travelers who had met on the volcano cruise. One, Yeonsil (hope that’s the right name, I forgot, and I’m going by facebook 🙂 ), is from Korea. The other, Sharon Li, is from China, pictured below:

We passed the time until sunset talking about our travels and avocations. As sunset finally approached, we were all quite dismayed to see the sun simply dissapear into a thick bank of grey clouds, and everything just got dimmer, not brightly-colored like it’s supposed to. It was a good time though – you can see Yeonsil is quite dissapointed here:

And here’s a shot of her cracking up, unable to maintain her pout.

The night was great in spite of the lack of sunset. We took our ATVs back to Fira, the main town of Santorini and had a delicious Greek dinner.

Here’s a map of the path I took around the island:

View Larger Map

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